November 9, 2013
Chateauneuf du Pape
Feature Sale of Two of the Best
Few wines offer as visually clear natural expressions of grape, place and vintage as a good Châteauneuf. Chateauneuf du Pape takes its name from the time when Pope Clement V, an avid wine lover, moved to Avignon in 1305. As well as its long history producing wine, Chateauneuf is one of the largest appellations in France at over 300 hectares and, officially established in 1932, was the first AOC in France. Traditionally, the wines were field blends of many grapes grown side by side. While the appellation’s rules permit the use of 13 grapes in the blend, most wines now are dominated by Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards are farmed organically or biodynamically, and the region’s abundant sunshine and frequent wind (called le mistral) prevent the need for treating the fields with herbicides or pesticides. The wines themselves are as pure as their production, their flavors rarely masked by aging in new oak. Today, there are hundreds of growers in the region, with more producers than ever committed to making the best wines possible. Not all wines are created equal though, so today we focus on two of Chateauneuf’s most celebrated producers; Clos des Papes and Clos du Caillou.
The name Clos des Papes is synonomous with Chateauneuf du Pape. The Avril family has been famous in this area since the 18th Century, for both producing wines and as representatives for Cheateauneuf. Clos des Papes has been run from the beginning by a string of men named Paul Avril; Grandfather, Father and now the son. The first Paul Avril was instrumental in the creation of the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation in 1932 and, in 1896, bottled the first wines from their estate under the Clos des Papes name.
Perhaps the most important figure in the domaine’s history is the second Paul Avril, who ran the estate from 1963 through 1987. In addition to advancing the quality of the wines at his own domaine, Paul was an important and well-respected advocate for the appellation, serving as both the head of the growers’ syndicate and the regional representative to the INAO. Paul was a staunch traditionalist who firmly believed in the principle of ‘one estate, one wine’, and resisted the pressure to bottle high price cuvées. In keeping with this philosophy, Clos des Papes produces only one cuvée of red Châteauneuf and one of white each vintage. With 35 acres of vines spread over 24 separate parcels in Chateauneuf du Pape, they have a wide array of terroirs in one wine, adding complexity. Clos des Papes is produced from about 65%Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah and 5% from other varietals. The Avrils have a modern viewpoint, farming biodynamically and using absolutely no new oak, while still holding on to the traditional methods, seeking very low yields and leaving their wines unfiltered.
After training at several other wineries throughout France, Paul-Vincent Avril joined his father in 1987 and continues to run the estate today. Just like his father and grandfather before him, Vincent Avril is known not only as a talented winemaker, but as a gracious host and a gregarious ambassador for the region.
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2008 ($99.95) $69 super special (USA average = $98)
Wine Spectator 95 points “Dark, inviting and very alluring, with captivating black tea, charred mesquite and kirsch aromas and flavors allied to a remarkably silky mouthfeel. Superlong, with mineral, violet, pepper and additional crushed cherry and plum notes all gliding through the finish. Shows none of the difficulties of the vintage-arguably the best property in the appelation right now. Best from 2011 through 2027.”
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2009 ($149.95) $99 special (USA average = $128)
Wine Spectator 96 points “Sinewy and reserved, with a light dusting of cocoa over the tangy damson plum, red licorice and cassis notes. The long, supple finish, with a lovely wafting note of Lapsang souchong tea, is packed with minerality and tight-grained tannins that will need time to fully evolve. One of the more backward 2009s, though this should pick up steam in the cellar. Best from 2013 through 2025.” Robert Parker 95 points “The 2009 is showing better out of bottle than it was last year. Gorgeous kirsch liqueur notes, raspberry jam, forest floor, spice box, new saddle leather and a peppery spiciness are all present in this deep, voluptuously textured, open-knit Clos des Papes, which is atypically forward, luscious and approachable already. These wines often need a good 5-10 years of cellaring in the more structured vintages, but the 2009 is gorgeous from the get-go. This full-bodied, deep, concentrated wine has a deep purple color and should drink well for 20-25 years without ever really closing down.”
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2011 ($129.95) $99 special (USA average = $114)
Stephen Tanzer 92-94 points “I tasted the 2011 wine here in its four basic components, drawn from different foudres, followed by a sample of what Avril believes will be the final blend. #1: 75% grenache, 15% syrah and 10% mourvedre; intense, spice-accented red fruit aromas, with a sexy floral nuance and good back-end cut. #2: 50% syrah, 45% grenache and 5% everything else; richer and more masculine, offering deep dark fruit flavors and a hint of bitter chocolate; more serious than the first component but less precise and graceful. #3: 65% grenache and 35% syrah; graceful and silky in texture, offering vibrant red fruit and floral aromas and flavors. Very fresh, in an intriguing, pinot-like way, with excellent cut and length. #4: 65% grenache, 30% mourvedre and 5% syrah; emphatically spicy, with deep cherry and raspberry flavors and a hint of anise. The spiciness builds with air and carries through impressively. The final blend is bright ruby red with a heady bouquet of candied red fruits, potpourri and allspice, along with musky herb and mineral elements. Sappy and precise, with vibrant black raspberry and cherry flavors given lift by zesty acidity. Finishes clean and very long, with resonating floral and spice notes and harmonious tannins.”
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2012 ($99.95) $79 special
Wine Advocate 94 points “Looking at Paul-Vincent’s Chateauneufs, and a rich, voluptuous example of this cuvee that possesses great acidity, the 2012 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc offers up ripe stone fruits, white currants, honeysuckle and licorice to go with a full-bodied, rich and powerful profile on the palate that somehow stays beautifully fresh and focused. It’s a gorgeous wine that can be consumed in its fresh and vibrant youth, or cellared for a decade or two. It’s a knockout white that should not be missed! Drink now-2032. One of the benchmark estates, Clos des Papes covers close to 90 acres in Chateauneuf du Pape and is run by the incredibly talented Paul-Vincent Avril. Favoring a single cuvee, his Chateauneuf du Pape is always a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre 10% Syrah and the rest a mix of Vaccarese, Counoise and Muscardin. No new oak is used in the winery and all new barrels and foudre see three vintages of his non-vintage Le Petit Vin d’Avril before being used for his grand vin. Starting out, the two non-vintage Le Petit Vin d’Avril are both beautifully made (the vines are farmed just like Paul-Vincent Chateauneuf du Pape terroirs and the yields are miniscule) and well worth checking out.”
And a luminous pre-arrival offer- here in December
Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2005 ($179.95) $149 special
Wine Spectator 98 points “Really tight now, but packed with dark fig, currant, espresso, licorice and chocolate notes. Superfleshy but seriously structured, there’s layer after layer of sweet spice, fruit and minerality pumping through the finish, with lots of latent depth and power. Far more backward than the 2003 or 2004 on release, but since this red typically puts on weight as it ages, it should be a monster–à la the 1990–when it reaches its peak. Best from 2009 through 2030.”
all at the lowest listed prices in the USA
Le Clos du Caillou dates back to at least the first part of the 19th century when the estate itself was a prominent hunting lodge in the region. However, the modern era for Clos du Caillou began when it was purchased in 1956 by the Pouizin family. Until 1995 the property was run by Claude Pouizin, who until 1993 sold most of his yield to negociants. In 1995 his daughter Sylvie and son-in-law Jean-Denis Vacheron took hold of the reins and the quality of the wines grew rapidly. Jean-Denis died in 2002 in a tragic accident, leaving it to Sylvie to keep the domaine going on her own, ably assisted by talented people such as wine maker Bruno Gaspard and the oenologist/consultant Philippe Cambie.
With a mere 9 hectares in Châteauneuf du Pape, most of Clos du Caillou’s vineyards are situated in the eastern section of Châteauneuf du Pape in the lieux-dits of Pignant, Les Bédines, and Guigasse, where the soil consists mainly of sand with some stony spots and a deeper layer of marl. The main part of the parcels were planted in about 1950, the average age of the vines is over 40 years but some of the vines reach up to 100 years in age. The goal at Clos du Caillou is to respond to what each vintage and vineyard produces while making their wine. Careful vineyard management, modern vinification and a tight control of yields are producing excellent results. The composition of the red wine and how they are treated varies according to the vintage, with the varietals aging seperately in concrete vats, foudres, or in the small barrels in the domaine’s old cellars located nine meters underground. From this land, three red blends are produced; Cuvee Les Safres, Cuvee Les Quartz and the Reserve, all with a focus on the old vine Grenache that Clos du Caillou specializes in.
Clos du Caillou Chateauneuf du Pape Les Safres 2009 ($79.95) $39 special
Robert Parker 91 points “The dark plum/ruby/purple-tinged 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Les Safres is showing better from bottle than it did last year from barrel. A blend of 95% Grenache and the rest Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault aged in old foudres, reveals classic notes of herbes de Provence, cherry jam and lavender in a full-bodied, opulent, sexy, open-knit style typical of many 2009s. This broad, rich Chateauneuf is ideal for drinking over the next 10-12 years.”
Clos du Caillou Chateauneuf du Pape Les Quartz 2009 ($109.95) $59 special
Robert Parker 94 points “The opaque ruby/purple-colored 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Les Quartz is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah from one of the appellation’s more obscure lieu-dits. This stunning 2009 offers copious floral notes intermixed with crushed rock, wet stone, kirsch and black currant characteristics.”
Clos du Caillou Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve 2009 ($179.95) $109 special ($166+ elsewhere)
Robert Parker 94+ points “Intense, full-bodied and opulent, it is presently as rich, powerful and promising as their top luxury cuvee, the dense purple-colored 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve. The latter wine normally towers above the other two cuvees, but it is also more backward because 40% of the blend is split between Mourvedre and Syrah aged in new oak casks and the balance of 60% Grenache is aged in 600-liter demi-muids. Its deep purple color is followed by expansive, broad, sweet kirsch and black raspberry fruit notes intermixed with hints of licorice, graphite and spice box. Full-bodied with terrific purity as well as an attractive earthy, truffle, meaty character, it is much more evolved and forward than most vintages tend to be as this cuvee often needs 8-10 years of bottle age in the more tannic, backward years. However, that is not the case with this 2009 Reserve. It should drink well for 15+ years.”
All of these wines are at the lowest listed prices in the USA